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September 23, 2011

 

Dragons face road test without Autera

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

As if going on the road against a familiar football nemesis will not be a hard enough task, SUNY Cortland will face Rowan University this Saturday without its leading rusher and scorer from a year ago.
While junior running back and dangerous kick returner Justin Autera is headed home to Mahopac this weekend to have an MRI on an injured knee, the Red Dragons will be out to avenge their lone loss suffered in the New Jersey Athletic Conference last season.
That was a defeat that cost Cortland the chance to finish all alone atop of the NJAC standings in 2010, as the Red Dragons ended up sharing first place with Rowan and Montclair State.
Cortland will also be trying to recover from a frustrating 21-16 home field loss to Kean this past Saturday, when a potential game-winning drive was stopped two yards shy of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Autera was hurt in the second half of that setback.
That disappointment sends Cortland into New Jersey with a 1-1 conference record, and unable to afford another misstep while facing a Rowan squad that leads the overall series 11-6-1 — including coming from behind to beat the Red Dragons 20-17 in last year’s meeting at Wackar Stadium in Glassboro.
“The goal is to win the NJAC, and as soon as you stumble there’s maybe a little more urgency in your step,” said Cortland head coach Dan MacNeill prior Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff against the Profs, who are 1-0 in conference play and 1-1 overall. “I don’t think there’s any panic. We just have to go and play a really good football team in hostile territory, which has been hostile territory for me, and we need to get a win.”
The Red Dragons also have to put the Kean loss out of their minds. “One thing I think we’re good at is moving on and getting to the next battle,” says MacNeill.
While Autera will be absent, replaced by speedy senior Dorian Myles, there is good news in the Cortland camp. Senior defensive end Connor Tompkins, junior safety Steve Lenhart and senior linebacker Tom Lewis will all be available to play coming off injuries.
“We’re going to enjoy getting those guys back,” said MacNeill. “All three guys will add significantly to our special teams and our defense.”
Coming off a knee injury in a pre-season scrimmage against Rochester, Tompkins will team up with end Vaughn Labor and senior nose tackle Steve Gruber to bulk up the defensive front line. Labor, out of Norwich, was selected as the team’s Player of the Game for grading out to perfection in the Kean contest.
LENHART RETURNS to a secondary that is still searching for its first interception.
“Our defense hasn’t been anywhere as near as opportunistic as in the past,” noted Coach MacNeill. “We’re stopping the run, we do have a couple of fumbles, and people are changing in the manner in which they’re throwing the ball against us. I’m not making excuses, but we don’t have interceptions.”
Opponents have come up with four turnovers, while Cortland has just a pair of fumble recoveries two games into the season.
“The defense is playing as well as we’ve played in the past, but the big play has stepped up and bit us,” added MacNeill, that being the case in both a season-opening win over Buffalo State and last week’s loss to Kean.
The Cortland offense cranked out 455 yards and 26 first downs in the loss to Kean, but was only 3-of-6 converting scoring chances on drives into the red zone. Myles rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries while filling in and then taking over for Autera.
“He’s always been a good back,” said MacNeill of Myles, a 5-foot-10, 195-pounder who played at Hamburg High School in Western New York. “He’s always been in the shadow of Justin, just a little bit, but we’ve always respected what he can do.”
Quarterback Dan Pitcher has thrown for 434 yards and five touchdowns so far, the Cortland High alum’s 22 completions and 265 passing yards against Kean both career bests as a Red Dragon. Sophomore John Babin has been his favorite receiver with a dozen catches so far this year, covering 147 yards including three touchdown grabs.
THE ROWAN OFFENSE struggled in an 8-6 non-conference loss at Lycoming to open the season, where the Profs just missed connecting on a two-point conversion that would have sent that game into overtime. Last week in their NJAC opener at Brockport, the Profs scored the game’s final 22 points to rally to a 39-32 victory.
Quarterback Louie Bichanini threw for three touchdowns in the win at Brockport, and has completed 31-of-53 passes for 325 yards this season. Anthony Barone has nine catches and Eddie Eisenhart seven, both with TD receptions.
Keith Corcoran (14 carries-63 yards) and Steve Hevalow (10-44) share ball carrying duties and are experience. Hevalow rushed for 728 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, when Corcoran had 679 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
While Cortland has yet to pick off a pass, Rowan had four interceptions against Brockport — two by defensive back Eric Sharkey. Linebackers Dean Hammell and Geno Raman lead the Profs with 15 tackles apiece.
Rowan also has the added incentive of being the odd man out in 2010. After sharing first place with Cortland and Montclair, the Profs lost in the tie-breakers and were left out of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Still, Cortland has to worry more about itself.
“Our challenge is to go in and play a clean game and enjoy what we’re doing offensively and defensively,” said Coach MacNeill. “And we have to turn the turnover stat over.”
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DRAGON TALES: Both coaching staffs will participate in the American Football Coaches Association’s “Coach to Cure MD” charitable project. Coaches will wear logo patches during the game to support the program, which looks to fight Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Fans can donate to the cause online at www.CoachToCureMD.org or by texting the word “Curt” to 90999 to automatically donate $5 from their mobile phones.... Offensive guard Randy Bloom and defensive back D.J. Romano will be game captains for Cortland this week, selected by coaches. Junior Bloom also excelled playing goal line defense for the Red Dragons, who stopped Kean twice inside the 1-yard line last week... Cortland is still ranked in the D3football.com national poll despite the loss to Kean, holding down the No. 24 slot. The Red Dragons were among those also receiving votes in the first AFCA poll this week.... With Autera out, wide receiver Babin, Romano and Myles could be called upon to return kicks against Rowan..... In his 10th season at Rowan, head coach Jay Accorsi has a stellar 76-25 record. The Profs reached the NCAA semifinals in 2005, losing to eventual champion Mount Union.

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